When Lotus announced their capture of the mercurial Kimi
Raikkonen in late November, the speculation inevitably focused
around the Finn's prospects in his comeback season. Little
attention was paid to the subsequent unveiling of the former world
champion's team-mate Romain Grosjean, an inexperienced Frenchman
who had failed to impress during his first brief stint with the
team. Yet eight races later, the partnership is developing into one
of the most compelling tussles on the grid.
Despite the apparent gulf in skill, the pair went into the campaign
evenly matched. Neither had driven a Formula One car in anger for
more than two years, and in their absence the sport had changed
immeasurably. A ban on refuelling, the introduction of Pirelli
tyres and the advent of DRS ensured that both men faced a steep
learning curve, and that any inherent advantage Raikkonen might
have enjoyed was largely negated.
Nevertheless, Raikkonen is a racer in the purest form of the
word. Eighteen wins and a world championship do not come about by
chance, and the 'Flying Finn' proved his class almost immediately.
He has enjoyed a far more successful return than many anticipated,
scoring in seven of the first eight events and standing on the
rostrum on three occasions. There have been sniffs of victory, and
it is testament to Kimi's attacking spirit that he has been unhappy
to have settle for second on two occasions. His racecraft and
unadulterated speed remain wholly intact after two seasons in the
However, team-mate Grosjean has been no push-over. Having
disappointed in his half-season at Renault in 2009, he went away
and won the GP2 and GP2 Asia series. This education put him in good
stead, and the paddock immediately sat up and took notice when he
qualifed third for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Despite a series of incidents, he has scored in every race he has
finished and clinched two podiums in the process. Without such bad
luck, he too may have been a winner by now - as an alternator
failure whilst running second in Valencia last weekend
For all this talk, the championship standings are ultimately all
that matter. Raikkonen's seventy-three point haul puts him seventh
in the rankings, leading closest pursuer Grosjean by a healthy
margin of twenty. However, the positions could quite easily be
different if it were not for the occasional twist of fate - both
drivers have endured copious elements of bad luck. Whilst the
points table is generally reflective of on-track performance, there
should be no doubt that these drivers remain almost inseperable.
With twelve events to go, Lotus' internal struggle remains
However, Raikkonen's current slender advantage does not
necessarily extend to any environment outside the cockpit. Having
spent a total of eighteen months at the team as both a race and
test driver prior to this year, Grosjean is firmly entrenched at
Enstone. Team principal and compatriot Eric Boullier speaks warmly
of his driver, admitting that he was not expecting the duo to be
"so close" and suggesting that Grosjean has "the speed and the
talent to be world champion".
By contrast, Boullier's relationship with Raikkonen has sometimes
been uneasy. In 2010, the pair were involved in a very public spat
over Finn's motivation - or lack thereof. Since then, the Lotus
team principal has described the former world champion as "a wild
animal" in his approach to media work. For his part, Raikkonen has
reportedly infuriated the team with repeated demands for changes to
the steering and suspension of the E20. He did not participate in
the sole in-season test at Mugello, with Grosjean taking the wheel
for all three days.
As such, it is not easy to decipher how this tale will unfold. If
Raikkonen has a slight edge on track, Grosjean enjoys unrivalled
cameraderie in the garage. At the end of the day, every successful
relationship in the paddock is built on the premise of good
results. With the majority of the season still to come, no team
leader has yet emerged - and Boullier insists that the team will
continue to "give our drivers the tools to deliver on equal terms".
If that is the case, then it is up to the drivers alone to battle
it out in this most unlikely of match-ups.